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Letting Go: Advice for college-bound freshman and their parents

Mother and daughter embracing behind car on college campusFor the recently graduated high school senior this particular August may mark the beginning of an entirely new and exciting chapter in life — going off to college.

For the proud parents of these soon-to-be college freshman, this August also may mark a new chapter in life — “letting go” of your college-bound young adult child.

For both teen and parent, this transition can be exciting, character building and fulfilling. It can also be a challenging new time that may yield a sense of loss and some emotional discomfort.

In an effort to help ease many normative hurdles experienced, and be able to transition healthily through this momentous period of life for both student and parent, Staff Therapist Amy Drucker, MS, LMFT, offers some helpful hints for families to remember as they navigate and adapt to this new developmental chapter.

For the college-bound freshman:

  • Attend class
  • Get to know your dorm mates, roommates and classmates
  • Try new things and keep an open mind
  • Get to know the area around the school
  • From day one, keep a calendar for your academic assignments for the semester
  • Get into a good study routine and budget your time for your assignments
  • Go to office hours to talk with your professors if you are struggling in class (or even if you are not)
  • Come up with a plan or schedule for how often you will communicate with your parents
  • Whether you are attending school far away or close to home, try to stay at school on the weekends and participate in life on campus
  • Try to get into a good routine with sleeping enough, eating meals and getting some physical exercise
  • It is normal to miss home, friends and family members, even pets.
  • Bring little things from home to help make your dorm room cozy and comfortable
  • Do not hesitate to reach out and seek help from the mental health center on campus if you are struggling
  • Remember to laugh, have fun and make safe social choices

For Parents:

  • Your relationship with your child is likely to change, this is normal
  • Try to give your college freshman some space to independently establish themselves at school — do not visit too frequently or expect to talk to them every day
  • Make a plan or schedule for how often you will communicate with your child
  • Lower any expectations that you will know (or need to know) where they are at all times
  • Do not solve their problems for them; be a coach and help them learn how to advocate for themselves when they are faced with a problem
  • Encourage them to try new things and to meet new people (clubs, study groups, dorm social functions)
  • Remember to ask questions about how classes and academics are going
  • Make sure your child understands expectations or agreements around any financial support being offered by you
  • Remember that any remaining children at home are also going through a transition and it is helpful to talk to them about their feelings around their brother or sister leaving
  • Know what mental health services are available at your son or daughter’s university
  • Utilize social resources, friends and your spouse to talk about how you are feeling during this transition
  • Do not hesitate to reach out for individual, couple or family counseling support should you find that you are having a challenging transition
  • Trust that a big part of you and all you have taught your son or daughter in the last 18 years is going with them to school
  • Remember to take a moment and celebrate the incredible milestone of your son or daughter embarking on the college journey!


Amy Drucker, MS, LMFT, is licensed marriage and family therapist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University. She specializes and enjoys working with people experiencing life transitions that are often overwhelming and subsequently impede one’s ability to function as they once did. Whether the transitions relate to relationships, emotional experiences, or even the transition of new or old behaviors manifesting, Ms. Drucker believes that by talking about and raising awareness around the complexity of emotional experience during transitions, individuals, couple and family units can create understanding, tolerance and healthy skills to adapt to the inevitable changes of life.


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